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Chapter 10 - Character and self in narrative

H. Porter Abbott
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

One truism about narrative is that it is a way we have of knowing ourselves. What are we, after all, if not characters? That is, we seem to be characters, and characters are one of the two principal components in most stories, the other being the action. An extreme position is that we only know ourselves insofar as we are narrativized. But this cannot be entirely the case since scientists can dissect and anatomize humans in static non-narrative conditions and in this manner develop extensive understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological components of what we are. So, to put the generalization more accurately, it is only through narrative that we know ourselves as active entities that operate through time. In this regard, even scientists who study us need to see us in narrative form. Psychologists conducting rigorously controlled experiments on human behavior situate their subjects as if they were characters in stories. Sometimes these are very tiny stories indeed, but the skeletal structure of narrative governs even the most limited patterns of stimulus and response (“The infant's face showed signs of wonder when the ball appeared to pass through a solid object”).

In this chapter we shall look at a few of the important issues and questions that arise in connection with the narrative representation of both character and that mysterious (some would say illusory) property of character usually referred to as “the self.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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